LH Music Review: Donda

Taking a look at Kanye West’s highly anticipated 10th studio album.

Julius Perez, Opinion Editor

Here it is. Generation defining artist Kanye West has done it again with his newest project. Named for his late mother, Donda, the record did everything but disappoint. I will proclaim myself as an average Kanye fan, chalking up the numerous delays on the album as the usual antics of Mr. West. However, listening to this epic addition to the Kanye West saga, I can say with confidence that the wait was well worth it, after hearing the music from the initial listening party the album seems far more refined and finished. Kanye has once again proved himself as a musical genius capable of art of the highest degree.


I believe it’s best to remove the artist from their art, and not let their reputation or public actions define the value of what they create, especially in the case of Kanye West. While separating someone from their work is not always productive I believe there are certain situations that are unique and deserving of this exception. You may not be willing to separate a politician from their politics, which I completely agree with, but you may be willing to separate Michael Jackson from his music. Whatever your opinion of Kanye West, I urge you not to let his vast self promotion schemes taint his musical legacy. He has contributed a great deal to modern hip hop, with his masterful adoption of 808s or the tantalizing maximalist and layered vocal tracks he is so heavily associated with. 


The overarching narrative of Donda, should not be taken at face value as just an album dedicated to his mother. While Kanye has an undeniably deep appreciation for his mother, highlighted by tracks like Hey Mama from West’s album, Late Registration. This album is more complex than that. Variety treats Donda as just another one of Kanye’s emotional rants. Making it out to be a record filled with apparent obsessions with his ex-wife Kim Kardashian, and hip-hop rival Drake. I feel this perspective is a true insult to the testament of work and innovation put into this album. 


Other Kanye records have been tarnished by well known reviewers such as Anthony Fantano, of the YouTube channel, “theneedledrop,” for what has been called as lack of clear and cohesive message and theme, despite his creativity. This album sticks to an overarching theme that is largely up for interpretation, but nonetheless is a comprehensive and cohesive theme. One summary I related to and felt fully understood the album came from TikTok user @bakurifuto. Noting that the album is “split in half,” with the first half featuring songs like Jail and Hurricane, that tell stories of ‘sin’ and sometimes repent for those sins. In contrast, The second half of the album takes more of a gospel inspired theme, reflecting Kanye’s most recent work with his Sunday Service choir and a greater focus on Christianity, represented by many tracks on the album (Jesus Lord, 24, Keep my Spirit Alive, Heaven and Hell) and also his 2nd most recent album, Jesus is King. The second half plays more into the ‘light.’ As @bakurifuto put it, “Signifying that Kanye is saved or [that] he has some redemption.”


Often I feel music or album reviews ironically ignore the actual quality of the music in the album. Donda was full of great music, it featured Kanye rapping that reminded me of his flow on albums like Graduation, The College Dropout, and Late Registration. While also feeling consistently new. In the way that it takes the almost over the top, maximalist production approach of Kanye and still finds a way to make it sound deeply provocative and filling. Despite it’s nearing 2 hour run time I did not feel bored with this album at all. It didn’t get tired once. 


It is important to remember that Kanye was first a legendary producer before a legendary rapper. His production value outweighs almost everything else. This ties into the fact that he is now an iconic figure in hip hop and widely respected by other members of the community. These characteristics together create an environment for other artists to shine in their many features on the album, while artists like Jay-Z or The Weeknd don’t necessarily need West’s production to thrive. Other artists like Lil Yachty or Lil Baby could benefit. I’m not usually a fan or consumer of music from either of those artists or some other features on the album. However, on Donda, they sound good. Plain and simple. I’m not attributing it to one thing, but some features left me really impressed.


I do have a few grievances with the album, most notably the album cover. The decision for this to be the artwork is really just odd, and rather confusing. Many of Ye’s album covers I would consider museum worthy art, so it seems contradicting to his style of music to have such a minimalistic and simple album cover. It comes off as pretentious, maybe Ye thought this square of black would pass as a provocative and symbolic album cover, but in reality it comes off as lazy. This is bizarre for Kanye because despite his arrogance he normally has substantial evidence to back his greatness up. Regardless of how important you find an album cover to be to the overall record, I found this choice was to the detriment of the album and underwhelming. 


With the new wave of Kanye we have to accept, to some extent, some religious content. Obviously, Jesus is king pushed that new sentiment to levels Kanye hadn’t previously gone to. This album was really no different with its push of Christianity. I did not find these to be a factor that really negatively affected the overall quality of the album though. In fact some of Mr. West’s best work has been done with an emphasis on Christianity, especially with his song Jesus Walks from Late Registration. 


Boldly, I would put this in the top 5 Kanye West albums of all time. It was a genuinely needed return from Ye’s little hiatus from music, showing us he can in fact, still do it, and helping secure his spot as one of the great musical minds of his generation.